Pelicans Suddenly Holding Down Fort And Winning, As Zion Nears Return

Zion Williamson is nearing a return and the Pelicans are currently playing as if he’s already back.Jonas Valanciunas

They have won three of four, punctuated by Monday’s 123-104 blasting of the Clippers, in which New Orleans received 39 points from center Jonas Valanciunas.

“The guys were calling him Dirk Valanciunas,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said, in a tip of the cap to Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki.

Valanciunas was modest in his response.

“Everybody wants to be him,” Valanciunas said. “He’s one of the greatest big guys in the game, but I’ve still got to work a lot to be like him.”

Along with All-Star type performances from Valanciunas, the Pelicans have been receiving lifts from the likes of small forward Brandon Ingram, forward Herb Jones and guards Devonte’ Graham and Josh Hart. Everyone is contributing, as a season that began as a basketball disaster is seemingly correcting itself.

And just in time for Zion.

It’s true — as the standout power forward is back on the court, getting in practice and is expected to be back before much longer. (The Pelicans, wisely, are keeping an exact timeframe a surprise.)

“Z is a different dude. He’s still dynamic. His explosiveness is there,” Green told reporters. “But once again, he has to get a flow and a rhythm of playing basketball of 5-on-5 again. That may take a little time.”

Williamson has yet to play this season after suffering a right foot fracture over the summer. Last week, he started playing some 4-on-4.

“It’s more about how he responds to practices,” Green said. “How he responds to the physicality of playing against his teammates. How he responds from getting up and down. Just giving the timeline is tough on that. We want him back as soon as possible.

“But it’s all predicated on how he feels on workouts. The medical team will work diligently with him, and we’ll go from there.”

In the meantime, it appears Valaciunas, Ingram and the rest are suddenly capable of holding down the fort.

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